Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Biffle still in Chase Grid with 2 races to go

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Bristol Motor Speedway had the potential to turn the Race to the Chase upside down.

But instead, all four winless drivers that went into Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race holding a Chase Grid position not only left Bristol still on the Grid but having increased their points cushions.

Here’s a look at how those on the Chase bubble fared in Thunder Valley…

13. 20-Matt Kenseth, 751 points

Finished 3rd at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 13th, +58 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 13th, +83 over 17th

Kenseth had a near-miss on Saturday night at Bristol, but he’s pretty much set to go into the post-season on points after a solid third-place effort that helped him add 25 markers to his cushion over 17th place. If you’ve had his name penciled in on the Grid, go ahead and erase that – then put it in ink.

14. 31-Ryan Newman, 710 points

Finished 13th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 14th, +28 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 14th, +42 over 17th

Now, if you’ve also penciled in Newman’s name, I’d keep the pen handy for next weekend at Atlanta. On Saturday, Newman hovered around the Top 10 for much of the night before a tight handling condition caused him to fade to 13th – but he still banked 14 points for his cushion. He could be a dark horse for Atlanta, where he finished in the Top-5 last year and where his Richard Childress Racing team recently tested.

15. 15-Clint Bowyer, 699 points

Finished 17th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 15th, +21 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 15th, +31 over 17th

After taking damage to his car as part of his involvement in Saturday’s first major incident, Bowyer eventually dropped off the lead lap in the second half of the race. But he was still able to salvage a Top-20 finish that enabled him to bank 10 points.

16. 16-Greg Biffle, 694 points

Finished 10th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 16th, +9 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 16th, +26 over 17th

Biffle’s picked up his pace at the right time. His 10th-place run on Saturday was his fourth consecutive Top-10 finish (fifth at Pocono, eighth at Watkins Glen, 10th at Michigan) and it was enough for a 17-point swing in his favor. The Biff had some luck on his side at Bristol; contact from Paul Menard on Lap 372 left his rear bumper cover dangling to the side, but a caution came out just a few laps later, giving his No. 16 squad a chance to remove it in the pits.

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17. 42-Kyle Larson, 668 points

Finished 12th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 19th, -24 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 17th, -26 behind 16th

Larson’s weekend at Bristol was one of survival – but survive, he did. After crashing his primary car in qualifying, Larson had to start Saturday’s race from the rear of the field in a backup. Following a solid opening run into the Top 20, he then took some damage in the Kyle Busch-Aric Almirola crash on Lap 125. But Larson recovered from the setback and turned in a 12th-place effort, which was enough to push him two positions up the Chase standings.

18. 5-Kasey Kahne, 661 points

Finished 35th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 17th, -9 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 18th, -33 behind 16th

Normally solid at Bristol, Kahne was looked at as a potential surprise for Saturday. Instead, a loose wheel caused him to pit from the Top 5 in mid-race and fall off the lead lap. Then later in the race, problems with the right front tire forced Kahne behind the wall around 100 laps to go. He returned to the track to finish 35th, but took a 24-point hit and fell one spot in the Chase standings. Atlanta may be another opportunity for a win, however, as he’s taken two victories on the 1.5-mile oval (2006, 2009).

19. 3-Austin Dillon, 654 points

Finished 28th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 18th, -22 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 19th, -40 behind 16th

Dillon had a rough night from the very beginning, sliding all the way back to 40th and going one lap down in the early stages due to poor handling. He soldiered on to a 28th-place result, but now he’s got to go hard for a win this coming weekend at Atlanta. Will that aforementioned RCR test session help him contend?

20. 27-Paul Menard, 649 points

Finished 9th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 21st, -46 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 20th, -45 behind 16th

Menard was running in the Top-5 late, but fell back a few spots after the final restart. The 9th-place result got him up to 20th in the Chase standings, but his points deficit only shrank by one marker. Like with RCR teammate Dillon, Atlanta will be big.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.